Questions for Cameron extend beyond Coulson

In the wake of the News of the World phone hacking scandal, politicians now need to work together and focus on what really matters, writes Matthew Pitt.

As the popular saying goes, “power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”; in the case of the never ending revelations about the true extent of the rampant, unrestrained and despicable behaviour by more than just one ‘rogue reporter’ at the News of the World, politicians now need to work together and focus on what really matters.

Questions that need to be urgently addressed by David Cameron include:

• When will the judge-led inquiry be set up and what powers will it have?

Should the BSkyB bid be dropped or adequately postponed in light of the widespread phone hacking allegations?

• How can the current system of self-regulation be kept intact whilst ensuring that such irresponsible conduct cannot happen again?

• And on Andy Coulson, who knew what and when did they know it?

For years the hacking by the News of the World into the phones of victims, politicians, celebrities and related individuals has been going on, and yet we are now only at the beginning of discovering the true extent behind this murky business.

The ongoing situation requires that, instead of waiting for the police investigation to be completed, a judge-led inquiry should be set up immediately before any further evidence is destroyed by making such action a criminal offence at once.

By being set up under the Inquiries Act and reviewing all issues that are central to the scandal, witnesses would be compelled to attend and respond to enquiries relating to the practices of all newspapers and the involvement of police forces in corruption.

These terms of reference are vital in light of the public’s trust in journalists and the police crumbling by the day. The way forward is for Mr Cameron to set up an immediate judicial inquiry that fully addresses these issues before our trust in the watchers and protectors of our society reaches a point of no return.

Secondly, the BSkyB bid by News International has to be referred to the Competition Commission because lies, serious wrongdoing and payment to police officers for information make it inconceivable for culture secretary Jeremy Hunt, who is overseeing the bidding process, not to do so.

Even before the extent of phone hacking was known, media regulator Ofcom advised Hunt to refer the bid to the Commission.

For Mr Cameron to therefore ignore the public outrage over such scandalous behaviour marks a turning point for the prime minister who prided himself in doing several u-turns in the past because he wanted to listen to what the country had to say. In this case, he does not need another listening exercise. The only moral thing to do would be to stop the bid until the criminal investigation is done and over.

Thirdly, the current self-regulatory system in the world of the press has proven to be insufficient to ensure compliance with the law. Self-regulation remains the answer to the problem of oversight, but it needs to be reformed in a way that ensures newspapers cannot act above the law and get away with it.

Ed Miliband pointed out in his most recent speech that the framework needs to be changed in three ways: the Board of the Press Complaints Commission needs to become more independent; receive greater powers to investigate cases that shows sign of wrongdoing; and be able to punish falsified stories and ensure proportionate corrections that do not end up in a one-sentence apology tucked away in the jungle of words.

According to Rebekah Brooks, the former editor of the News of the World, this business is far from over and even worse is yet to emerge. This is a story that will not go away for months, possibly years.

It is time, now more than ever, for political leaders to get together and introduce changes that go to the heart of the matter.

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